PHILADELPHIA - With an Ivy League Tournament championship - and the Ivy League's automatic bid to the NCAA Championships in the balance - No. 6 Penn found itself in an unexpected dogfight with No. 11 Dartmouth late in the game. Not unexpected because of the caliber of Dartmouth's team, but unexpected because Penn at one point held a 7-2 lead early in the second half.
However, the Big Green stormed back to tie the game at 7-7 with 17:57 to play and Penn needed someone to step up.
After Erin Brennan picked up the ensuing draw control, she drew a foul on Dartmouth's Sarah Plumb. Facing a tough angle, Brennan chose to wave off the shot and make a pass once play resumed. That pass found a wide-open Megan Smith at the side of the cage and the senior immediately put the ball behind Dartmouth's Julie Wadland to give Penn back the lead.
Just 29 seconds after the goal Giulia Giordano was tagged with a yellow card, sending her off the field for three minutes. Penn hunkered down on defense and halfway through the penalty Emma Spiro caused a turnover, picked up the ground ball and raced out of danger. The Quakers had a chance to extend their lead on a Courtney Lubbe free position attempt with 12:12 remaining, but her shot hit all post. A minute later, freshman Maddie Poplawski drew a free position of her own and buried the shot to give Penn a two-goal lead.
The Quakers needed that goal as Dartmouth bounced back one more time. With less than six minutes to play, Kristen Goldberg picked up a ground ball off a Penn turnover and rushed down the field, drawing a free position when she reach the eight-meter area. She attempt was good, closing the gap to one with 5:16 to play.
The Big Green won the draw and had a chance to tie, but Kat Collins was called for a yellow card on the follow-thru of her shot, turning the ball over to the Quakers. From there, Penn held the ball for the final 4:29 to win the first-ever Ivy League Women's Lacrosse Tournament.
"It was a great experience and a great atmosphere," head coach Karin Brower Corbett said. "I think it's a great preparation for the NCAA Tournament. Especially to play in that Friday-Sunday format-if we're lucky enough to get to the Final Four it will definitely help us."
The five-goal run by Dartmouth in the second half erased great work by Penn in the first half. Penn outshot Dartmouth, 15-2 in the first half, with Wadland doing everything she could to keep the Big Green close with seven saves in the opening frame. Emma Spiro had two goals in the first half (three total) and was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. The Quakers were able to work individual one-on-one plays for most of their goals in the first half, scoring four times unassisted. Giordano's was perhaps the best effort, as she took the ball from the left side towards the center, only to be met by a wall of Big Green defenders. Rather than pass, she collected herself and retried the move, whirling back towards goal and firing past Wadland.
Penn's third goal was a crazy series which started with Wadland committing a foul on Courtney Lubbe near midfield. Once Wadland reset behind Lubbe, the senior attack went towards an open goal. Lubbe's shot, however was blocked by Hope McIntyre on a lunging stop as it was in the air. Meredith Cain picked up the ball for Penn and had it stripped quickly, but the ball found its way to Brennan who immediately deposited in the cage for a 3-1 lead.
The Red and Blue opened the second half with a pair of one-timers from Spiro and Poplawski to extend the lead to 7-2 and appear to seize control of the game. However, at that moment the draw control arrow flipped over to Dartmouth as the Big Green won four out of five draws to tie the game.
Sarah Plumb started things for Dartmouth eight seconds after Poplawski scored. She won the draw control on the fly and went in untouched on Emily Szelest for the goal. 1:16 later Dana Brisbane scored and a minute after that Kat Collins scored on a free position. Sarah Parks added her first of the game with just over 20 minutes to play and Collins scored her third of the game with 17:57 to play to tie the contest. An evening Penn soon washed out with Smith's second of the game.
"We pride ourselves on not panicking," DeLuca said after the game. "One thing I think that we do so well, when Dartmouth did start to come back, we were very composed. We knew that we couldn't panic at that time. Even when Dartmouth was firing away, we knew we couldn't get down on ourselves and just had to keep playing."
Spiro credited her coach for instilling that calmness on the team.
"It is amazing," she said. "Even in games when we're losing, during timeouts Karen comes in and shows that it's okay-we just need to get the next draw or the next goal. We've been taught well that its one goal at a time and we just have to believe in ourselves."
Spiro finished with three goals, four draw controls and two caused turnovers in the win. Her four goals, six draw controls, four ground balls and two caused turnovers made her the inaugural Ivy League Tournament Most Outstanding Player. She was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Erin Brennan, Ali DeLuca, Giulia Giordano and Barb Seaman. For the tournament, DeLuca had ten points (4G-6A) while Brennan had five goals and an assist. Seaman finished with six ground balls, two draw controls and two caused turnovers. Giordano had a goal and three assists.
The Quakers will now await their seeding and first-round opponent for the 2010 NCAA Championships. Selections will be announced May. 9. This marks the fourth-consecutive year Penn has won the Ancient Eight's automatic bid to the NCAA Championships.